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The Navy has now commissioned its second Block IV Virginia-class attack submarine as part of its ongoing process to build its force as more Los Angeles class submarines retire and the global threat circumstance intensifies.
The arrival of the USS Oregon, recently commissioned in New London, Ct., is a welcome development for many Navy ship developers who have in recent years expressed concern about a coming submarine “shortfall” in future years as legacy platforms retire.
The hope among many Navy leaders and members of Congress has for many years been to uptick, accelerate and increase production of Virginia-class boats to ensure the existing fleet can meet growing requests from Combatant Commanders in high-threat areas of the world.
For many years, the Navy has been studying the US industrial base capacity and engaged in discussion with Congress for the specific purpose of exploring the option of building three new Virginia-class boats per year, or at least maintaining a pace of two per year once the Columbia-class boats start arriving.
A Navy report on the commissioning says the USS Oregon, is 377 feet long, has a 34-foot beam and is able to dive to depths greater than 800 feet and operate at speeds in excess of 25 knots. The submarine has a crew of nearly 140 Navy personnel.
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Block IV Virginia-class submarines are an interesting bridge between the massively upgraded Block III boats and the now in development Block V Virginia Payload Modules boats. Block V Virginia-class submarines will of course add an 80-ft section to increase the boats Tomahawk missile firing capacity from 12 missiles up to as many as 40.
It is a massive increase in firepower, generated in part by the expected retirement of four Guided Missile Ohio-class submarines (SSGN) armed with non-nuclear missiles. Each of these Ohio-class boats can carry as many as 154 Tomahawks, so their departure will greatly reduce the ability of the US Navy to launch large-scale submarine attacks in the event of major conflict.
As a Block IV ship, the USS Oregon likely incorporates many of the innovations built into Block III which include computerized “fly-by-wire” navigational controls, fiber optic cable for periscope viewing and an improved Large Aperture Bow sonar.
Virginia-class submarines are also critical when it comes to delivering Special Operations Forces into forward hostile areas for clandestine missions as needed. These kinds of missions can include hostage rescue, maritime ambush or hit-and-run attacks or simple scouting and reconnaissance missions.
To support this mission, Virginia-class Block III submarines have what’s called a Lock Out Trunk, or area built within the submarine that fills up with water from which Special Operations Forces can exit. This enables a smoother and much less detectable exit from the submarine which the Navy of course often wishes to conceal from adversaries.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.